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Barbadian Entrepreneur: Crafting Her Own Fate

toni_thorne.jpg

At the age of seven, Toni Thorne spearheaded a summer camp for her Planet Club. At 18, she started BoUiK, a fashion design and creative lifestyle company. By 22, she had established Martha’s Smile, an initiative that provides 30 HIV-infected children, living at Martha’s House in Jamaica, the opportunity to explore their creativity through art and music. At 23, she initiated a new festival, Settlers: the West Coast Experience, in Barbados. On December 9 this year, Thorne celebrated her 25th birthday, and with it, as one would imagine, she reflected on her own accomplishments as a young Barbadian female entrepreneur, philanthropist, mentor, and advocate.

Yet Thorne’s successes do not tell the tale of the challenges she faced in realizing her dreams. Like most people, she has had to overcome financial constraints––and pockets of discrimination based on the fact that she is a young black woman. “People judge you based on your youth. We are getting better right now, but there are still some people that do not take you seriously because of your age.” She continued to highlight the classism and racism that still exist in society. On the issue of gender she laments, “We as women have been made to feel like children in terms of taking our own place. If a woman speaks up, she is seen as crass, but if a man speaks up, he is seen as very confident. … You never hear anybody refer to a woman as a maverick.” In this regard, her confident and outspoken nature has not always been viewed in a positive light.

When asked how she has been able to overcome these barriers, Thorne shared, “It is a process. ... I think we do a lot of talking, and people really respect doers and doing. When people see that you can deliver on your word, I think people respect that and then they start to take you a lot more seriously.” She also credits the increasing support of family and friends as being an inspiration to her success.

In discussing other challenges facing young female entrepreneurs, Thorne noted that many are uncertain about the path they should take to realize their goals. There is much fear in taking the first step. She, too, had to overcome this fear along her journey. “It is hard to tell yourself, ‘let me take this leap of faith and really believe in what I am doing and push and be a full-fledged entrepreneur.’”

Thorne explained that there is additional pressure for female entrepreneurs to conform to societal norms and find a stable job. “We are moving towards better days, but our parents’ and grandparents’ generations are afraid of people stepping out and doing their own thing as opposed to going the conventional route.” She noted the difference between the support offered to men during this process and that offered to women. Her advice to her female mentees is, “You don’t do ‘can’t do,’ you always do ‘can do!’”

“We don’t have examples of women in the old boys’ club, and I am seeing more women moving towards wanting to achieve that, but it is one thing to want and it is another thing to do. … I think that our generation will be the movers and shakers to breaking the name from the old boys’ club to the old beauties’ club.” She highlighted that the women who are respected usually occupy political posts as opposed to positions as business leaders.

As with most endeavors in life, Thorne has had to work hard to achieve her dreams. She shared, “Nothing in life that is worth it comes easy. You have to work hard.”

Her passion is evident, and she is open to mentoring, supporting, and advising other young entrepreneurs. Thorne frequently contributes articles, or appears in print and online media, highlighting the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Barbados. Earlier this year, she was a speaker at TEDxYouth@Bridgetown where she shared her own journey as a way of inspiring other young entrepreneurs to realize their dreams. Likewise, she serves as an example of how young entrepreneurs can support communities in need through the Martha’s Smile initiative. This initiative not only provided an opportunity for HIV-infected orphans of Martha’s House in Jamaica to develop skills in art, dance, and music but also contributed to the restoration process when Martha’s House burnt down in 2009.

An insight into her journey highlights some key messages for women of all ages as they seek economic independence and work towards realizing their dreams:

• Act on your goals and maintain a positive attitude and you can overcome most social and economic hurdles and gain support.
• Provide and take advantage of opportunities.
• Value the support networks of family and friends and, equally important, provide support to others.
• Share success stories so that others can be inspired to act.

So what’s next for this budding Caribbean business leader? Thorne looks forward to the many opportunities offered by the Internet to build upon and diversify her business. She knows that there will be further challenges along the way but believes that any obstacles can be overcome by building relationships based on mutual respect. If all else fails, her philosophy is, “If you shout loud enough, somebody will hear and somebody will have to do something.” As such, she looks forward to only progress in the next phase of her life.

In a region where businesswomen and female entrepreneurs rarely share their journeys, Toni Thorne serves as an inspiration to all. She personifies the call in the National Anthem of Barbados to be “craftsmen of our fate.” Through her successes, she acts as a testimony that women at any age can take ownership of their personal and professional development by acting on their dreams and in turn make a difference in the life of others.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

nasreenamina's picture

Hi Bella! I really enjoyed

Hi Bella! I really enjoyed reading the story of Toni. Is an example of the determination and perseverance are bearing fruit. His story breaks stereotypes about the frivolity and personnel involved with the world of fashion. My daughter who is 20 years is studying to be a fashion designer and I'll share with her this story because it is inspiring and brings a new light in an activity that is rarely associated with community welfare.

It is also a story about the transforming power of young people for the welfare of their communities. He always tells young people that power is something you can experience "when they have experience." I wonder what experience? experience of stealing, lying, corrupt? The only experience needed to use our power to benefit others, is the experience to empathize and feel "with the other." Knowing that this life is like DNA, a chain, all depend on each other, therefore, what we do as good for others, return to us in the form of a new blessing. Age is just a number and is always a good time to improve the world.

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Juliette Maughan's picture

Smiles

You warm my heart my sister.

May your daughter be even more successful along her journey. It is hard work and we have to fight against the fear of failure but as we go forth and take action, others will be empowered to do so. It reminds me of a quote from my fav piece,

"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others" - Our Deepest Fear, Marianne Williamson

Best,

Juliette

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Great profile

I love the flow of your story--it keeps the reader engaged the entire way. What an inspirational woman as well. Hard to imagine she has accomplished so much at such a tender age. It was an interesting point that she brought up about successful women often being in political posts, but not necessarily in prestigious posts within the business community. I also loved her key messages.

Great work!

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thanks Rachel

I am happy you valued the post. As someone that also works with youth, there has been much discussion about youth entrepreneurship as a way for young persons to create their own work in this challenging economic environment. Jobs are lost almost every day and the government is also promoting entrepreneurship for the future economic development of the country. This being said the policies have not caught up to the rhetoric.

On the topic of women however, I wanted to highlight a woman that is a doer. As Toni noted, many women still have the fear of going out and doing their own thing. Of course there are a lot of informal activities happening but the challenge is to bring the informal into the realm of the formal and create new businesses, jobs etc.

Thirdly, I sat in a UN Volunteer meeting for Caribbean youth recently where it was highlighted that there are examples of persons doing amazing things in the Caribbean but it is never highlighted regionally or internationally. As a result, sharing of best practices, opportunities for partnerships etc do not take place because, within the Caribbean and outside of the region, people just do not know.

Lastly, I wanted to highlight the fact that she did not only start up businesses but also tied into community work around an issue that she feels passionately about. This is also a major topic in the region, i.e. how businesses can link into social development concerns.

Thank you for your response.

Best,

Juliette

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Quite a CV there!

Hi,
This amazing woman ,has accomplished so much in ashort time.Thank you for highlighting the profile.I for sure intend to use her profile with your permission at a youth gathering in Jan 2012 where I will be a guest speaker,The theme being YOUTH ,POLITICS AND ENTERPRENEURSHIP.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Juliette Maughan's picture

That would be fantastic

Hi Lucia,

Please feel free to do so and good luck with the youth gathering next year.

Best wishes,

Juliette

sallyhedman's picture

Well done, Juliette

Juliette,

You wrote a beautiful profile of an extraordinary young woman. I hope you shared this piece with her. Toni is a woman of action. I love her quote about "… always do 'can do'" That says a lot. Women who can do find the solutions they need in their lives and make the world a better place. Keep up your crystal clear writing. Your can do voice is one the world needs to hear.

Sally

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thank you!

Sally,

I could not have done it without your guidance.

Thank you!

Juliette Maughan's picture

Sharing

I did share it with her and she posted it on her Facebook page. It was also shared on some other pages of NGOs and young entrepreneurial groups.

I also sent it to my contacts in UN agencies etc to add to their stories of young women in the Caribbean.

Thanks again!

Shirley Clark's picture

Inspiring article!

Hi Juliette,

I loved reading your article! Not only was the subject fascinating and inspiring, your writing style and format kept me fully engaged throughout.

Thank you for sharing Toni's story. She has already learned so much in her life and you brought it to life with your well-written article.

I am now inspired to DO!

Best regards,

Shirley

Juliette Maughan's picture

:)

Thank you for your comments.

At first I was not sure that people would be moved by the story, in comparison to the other very inspiring stories of my colleagues. I nonetheless wanted to highlight that at all levels there will be difficulties. Yet sometimes you have to move around the hurdles and prove to people it can be done. It shows non-believers that you cannot be stopped and they could as well let you go ahead, and at the same time, encourages other individuals that they can too!

It was lovely to interview her and to learn her story.

I appreciate your feedback.

J

JaneWells's picture

A rising star

Dear Juliette,

Thank you for your inspiring portrait of a remarkable young woman. Toni has already accomplished so much in her life and it is very clear from your article that she will continue to make outstanding contributions. I was also impressed by her desire to share what she has learned with others. The questions you asked brought forth some clear guidance that can benefit all of us.

Nice work!

Jane

Juliette Maughan's picture

One to look out for

Thank you for your feedback Jane.

Yes I expect nothing but progress from that young lady, she has a very vibrant personality.

I am happy to know you were able to take something from the article.

Best wishes for the end of the year.

Juliette

MaDube's picture

Wow, so young yet she has

Wow, so young yet she has accomplished so much already. I am inspired by Toni's work. Thanks Juliette for the great profile.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Way to go!

What a wonderful young leader! Your writing is so good, it seems effortless. Reading this was a joy.

I am so impressed by what she has accomplished in so few years...in particular I'm thrilled to hear that she is working to mentor other young women who want to lead. I can tell that you feel she is going to keep going and stir things up even more. I don't doubt that we will continue to hear about her in the years to come. I'm glad you've introduced her to a wider world here!

Thanks for your great work here. Hope all is well with your work travels to Jamaica.
Best wishes for the New Year!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

Juliette Maughan's picture

Happy New Year

Yes, we do expect a lot from her.

I just returned from Jamaica just in time to enjoy Ole Year's.

:)

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